Record rains made Australia a giant green global carbon sink

Source: The Conversation

Record-breaking rains triggered so much new growth across Australia that the continent turned into a giant green carbon sink to rival tropical rainforests including the Amazon, our new research shows.

Published in the international journal Nature, our study found that vegetation worldwide soaked up 4.1 billion tons of carbon in 2011 – the equivalent of more than 40% of emissions from burning fossil fuels that year.

Unexpectedly, the largest carbon uptake occurred in the semi-arid landscapes of Australia, Southern Africa and South America.


The modelled net carbon uptake of the Australian landscape in December 2010 at the start of the big wet (above), compared with December 2009 (below). carbonwaterobservatory.csiro.auCC BY-NC-ND

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carbonwaterobservatory.csiro.auCC BY-NC-ND

Click to enlarge


It set a new record for a land-based carbon sink since high-resolution records began in 1958, in a remarkable example of ecosystems working to stabilise the Earth’s climate.

And that had a global impact. While atmospheric carbon dioxide still rose in 2011, it grew at a much lower rate – nearly 20% lower – than the average growth over the previous decade.

Almost 60% of the higher than normal carbon uptake that year, or 840 million tons, happened in Australia. That was due to a combination of factors, including geography and a run of very dry years, followed by record-breaking rains in 2010 and 2011.

Yet our research raises as many questions as it answers – in particular, about whether the Earth’s natural climate control mechanisms could prove even more volatile than previously thought.

Read the rest of this article on The Conversation.

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